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Free Agents Await Their Fate

Posted Dec 30, 2013

Notes: Cards have decisions; Washington's off-field issue; Abraham's big year

Linebacker Karlos Dansby cleans out his locker the morning after the Cardinals' last game of the season.

The offseason is less than 24 hours old but already the focus has turned to the Cardinals’ roster construction in 2014.

The team has seven free agent starters, including linebacker Karlos Dansby, running back Rashard Mendenhall and right tackle Eric Winston. General Manager Steve Keim has already begun the process of shaping next year’s personnel.

“We’ll do everything we can as an organization to keep the pieces we think that are extremely important,” coach Bruce Arians said. “Steve has already reached out to a number of guys’ agents. We’ll see how it goes. This is the time of year where we start building the 2014 Cardinals today.”

Dansby is the Cardinals’ highest-profile free agent. He signed a one-year, $2.25 million contract this offseason and then put up the best numbers of his career, compiling 122 tackles, 6½ sacks, four interceptions, a forced fumble and 19 passes defensed. He returned two of the interceptions for touchdowns, doubling his career scoring total.

Dansby is 32 and will likely test the market, but both sides have expressed interest in working out a deal.

“I would love to come back,” Dansby said. “The future is bright. I have a couple months and I will figure out what’s going on.”

Winston had similar feelings.

“I’m excited about the possibilities of the future,” he said. “I definitely want to be here, but you never know. I never wanted to leave a lot of the other places, either. It’s the business side which takes over now that the football’s over.”

There could be some fluidity in the Cardinals’ secondary. Starting safety Yeremiah Bell and cornerbacks Antoine Cason, Bryan McCann and Javier Arenas are free agents. This was Bell’s first year with the Cardinals after eight with the Dolphins and one with the Jets.

“I’m glad I came here as a player,” Bell said. “I didn’t know a lot of these guys before I came here but to sit in this locker room and go through battle each week with these guys was really nice. Of course I’d love to be back here with these guys but this is a business. We’ll see how it goes.”

Cason was primarily a special teams player until the final four games of the season, when his time on defense increased after Tyrann Mathieu went down with a season-ending knee injury. He had a two-interception performance against the Titans on Dec. 15 which he hopes elevated his stock.

“That was huge for me, personally, just to get out there and continue to play and show that I still can play,” Cason said. “I know I can. I still have a lot of game.”

Linebacker Matt Shaughnessy, punter Dave Zastudil , wide receiver Andre Roberts, tight end Jim Dray, tight end Jake Ballard and defensive lineman Frostee Rucker are some of the other notable free agents.

UNKNOWN FUTURE FOR JAY FEELY

Kicker Jay Feely is among the free agents as well. He made 30-of-36 field goals this season, including a streak of 17 in a row, but went 2-for-4 in Sunday’s three-point loss and missed four of his final 12 attempts. His 83.3 connection percentage was 21st out of the league’s 32 kickers.

“It was pretty good,” Feely said of his season. “I was disappointed with the finish, obviously. All throughout the year it was a pretty good year. I kicked the ball well and made some clutch field goals. But I’m my worst critic. I’m not going to be happy with the way it ended.”

[RELATED PHOTO GALLERY: The Cardinals clean out their lockers after the season]

He said he’s not focusing much on where he ends up next season.

“I’m going to enjoy my kids and be a dad again like I haven’t been for the past couple months,” Feely said. “Spend some time with them. Help out around the house. There’s a long list of things I need to do.”

Arians wasn’t happy with Feely’s final kickoff, which went too far to the right when the coverage was ready for something up the middle. A big return by LaMichael James gave the 49ers good field position on their way to the game-winning field goal.

“Jay is an unrestricted free agent, so it will be all business from here on out,” Arians said. “I love Jay to death. He was a captain. Wish he would have kicked that last kickoff down the middle.”

WASHINGTON WAITS FOR OFF-FIELD CASE TO BE RESOLVED

Linebacker Daryl Washington is an alternate to the Pro Bowl and played well after his four-game suspension for violating the league’s substance-abuse policy. The team must decide in March whether to exercise a $10 million roster bonus on Washington, and he is still awaiting a resolution of his aggravated assault charge from last summer. His next court date is scheduled for late January, and there is still a chance he could face an NFL suspension because of the situation.

“That probably could be one of the biggest things (the team is looking at),” Washington said. “I’ve never looked at it like that. I think that will all get taken care of. I am hoping and praying that all gets put behind me and I don’t miss any more games next season. I am confident where I stand in this organization that I am a good enough player and a good enough person on and off the field to come back next season.”

ABRAHAM HAS GAS LEFT IN THE TANK

John Abraham was beaten down by the turn his career took last offseason. Despite stellar sack numbers in Atlanta, there wasn’t much market for his services. He ended up taking a two-year deal with the Cardinals as a pass-rush specialist that “I never wanted to be in my career,” he said.

Abraham didn’t make much impact early on, but season-ending injuries to starting outside linebackers Sam Acho and Lorenzo Alexander in Week 3 against the Saints turned him into an every-down player. Abraham, 35, responded with 11½ sacks and four forced fumbles to earn the fifth Pro Bowl nod of his career. He is the oldest Cardinals defensive player to make the Pro Bowl.

“I really didn’t have none of that (in mind),” Abraham said. “I just wanted to play football more, see how much (was left). I thought it was going to be the end of my career. I thought, ‘OK, I’ll go to Arizona at the end of my career and be on the bench.’”

Abraham feels rejuvenated and said he will be back next year after contemplating retirement last offseason.

ANOTHER PRO BOWL PERFORMANCE

Justin Bethel will join Abraham and cornerback Patrick Peterson in Hawaii, and justified his selection against San Francisco. He had three special teams tackles, including a late one on James which may have saved a touchdown. He forced a fumble on the play, but James was ruled down by contact before the ball came loose.

Bethel wasn’t in great shape to make the Pro Bowl after the fan vote, which counts for 33 percent of the final tally, but the coaches and players put him in.

“When those guys recognize you as one of the best at what you’re doing, it’s a great honor,” Bethel said.

Dansby’s Pro Bowl omission was the most surprising, but he was diplomatic about it, saying he had to improve. Arians was blunt.

“I thought it was a joke,” Arians said. “An absolute joke.”

 

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